Category Archives: Experiences

Feeling Thankful

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving here in the United States, and I would be remiss if I didn’t go ahead and continue my tradition of offering up what I am most thankful for. To think, I have been keeping this blog up and running now for more than eight years …

Me and Rhonda

First, I’m thankful for my wife, Rhonda. She’s been a rock for me this year (as she always has), encouraging me all the way when it comes to building in the shop and inspiring me when I hit those creative impasses.

Mmmm, breakfast

I’m thankful for my two sons. I can’t believe those little babies I brought home from the hospital – what seems like only a few years ago – are now both in high school, with Dominic ready to graduate this coming spring.  It’s just about impossible to think about how much they are accomplishing without my eyes starting to leak a little bit.

This is bad

I am thankful that my Trained Shop Monkey Iggy has been hard at work, keeping his skills polished all these years.  It hasn’t been easy for him, but he still manages to make magic in the shop even though I have been his greatest impediment. 

I am thankful that my health has been good this year. It has been a struggle at times, but hey, I’m still up and at ’em.

I am thankful for my friends and family. It still gives me the biggest thrill to hear from someone I know and care about, “I read that on your blog.”  Thanks for being my support throughout the years and for tolerating the crazy banter about what’s on the bench. And, a special shout out to my Mom and Mother-in-law. Yes, I know you both read, but you don’t comment… that’s OK, those clicks count!

And, I am also thankful that even though I lost my Father-in-law this year, I was able to be there for my wife’s family during their trying time, and that I was able to serve as one of his pall bearers. He meant a lot to us, and I felt as if I was paying him the greatest respect by being there for him. We will miss his physical presence at the table tomorrow, but we will feel him with us for sure.

I am thankful I was able to attend the Woodworking in America conference this past October in Kansas City. Seeing all of my woodworking friends again truly inspires me to get off my butt and out into the shop. Plus, I mean, come on, it was in Kansas City – home to some serious barbecue!

I am thankful that Get Woodworking Week this past February went swimmingly. There’s nothing quite like watching the excitement build in the woodworking community about getting new folks into the shop, and I’m glad I could play some small role in inspiring at least a few woodworkers to get out there and try their hand at the effort.

I am thankful that I was able to land my new job over in downtown Tampa. While my commute has slowed my prodigious posting schedule a bit, the bus ride to and from the office gives me plenty of time to catch up on woodworking podcasts as I let someone else wrangle with traffic.

I am thankful that I was able to get back to the St. Petersburg Woodcrafters Guild to give a quick presentation on sharpening. Oh, how I love to get in front of a large group and talk woodworking. One day, I will retire and go on the speaking circuit in elementary and middle schools to introduce kids to the wonderful world of woodworking.

I am thankful that I was able to complete the summer of coffee tables, our new bed and my niece Katie’s hope chest. There’s nothing quite like seeing the face of a happy customer at the end of a project, and believe me, they sure were happy!

Recording an MWA podcast

I am thankful that the  Modern Woodworkers Association podcast continues to chug along, and that some folks actually still listen to it!  I really do want to thank my partner in crime Dyami Plotke and all of our listeners for tolerating my hijinx…You guys rock.

I am thankful for my sponsors – MicroJig ProductsBell Forest Products, Infinity Cutting Tools, Bora Tools and Tormek. Some days, I really do have to pinch myself – I can’t believe that you guys are still supporting me so readily!

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I am thankful that I got a chance to see so much of the country this year. From the snow-peaked Rockies last January to the Sonoran Desert in July (ugh) to (Viva) Las Vegas earlier this month, it has been a year of travel for sure.

And, on my tour to the Southwest, I am thankful to have seen Marc Spagnuolo’s shop in person and catch up with my old friend.

And, most importantly, I want to take a moment to thank each of you for reading Tom’s Workbench. Who would have known eight years ago that this little shop distraction would have become what it is today – a blog where people actually read the content?  Thanks for all of your support.

Tomorrow, as I lift my glass to make the toast, I want you to know I’ll be making a special one for each of you…

Dam, that’s impressive

I was traveling again this past weekend to instruct another great group of public information students. The destination? Las Vegas, baby!

LasVegasSign

Sure, we had to teach for a few days, and there was the allure of the many casinos, restaurants and other night spots, but the highlight of my visit had to have been the incredible Hoover Dam.

Dam!

I had never been so close to something that impressive in my life, and I have stood next to Matt Vanderlist!  

The architecture and embellishment that went into structure were just incredible, but the dizzying height from the top of the dam to the bottom of the gorge was impressive. I just had to snap this selfie.

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Dam. That’s high.

Another thing I discovered was just how much wood was involved in the building of the Dam thing.

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You see, the dam wasn’t poured in one piece. That would have been an insane amount of concrete to pour all in one shot, and there would be no way to guarantee the aggregate wouldn’t just sink to the bottom. So, the concrete had to be poured in forms, each measuring 50 feet square and five feet high.

To build those forms, it took an incredible amount of wood and steel. You can still see the grain pattern of the wooden forms in some of the tunnels leading to the power generating plant far below the top of the structure.

boom

Also, a lot of black powder and dynamite had to be brought in to prepare the site for the concrete. This panel from one of the powder boxes shows the box joint fingers that held the corners firmly in place for transportation. Makes you wonder how hard it was to pop that box open at the site.

Add to this the scaffolding, wood for huts and other structures, and you get an idea that a tremendous amount of lumber was required to make this all happen.

Pretty darned impressive.

Pass the rock!

So, for the past few weeks, our family has been moving on from the loss of my father in law. And, it’s been hard, but the impact has been significantly lessened by the fact that life continues on.

Carolina and Kenny

In fact, there is some great news that the family got. First, we found out that my niece Carolina (you remember when I built her hope chest, right?) announced that her boyfriend popped the question, and she said yes.

Seth and Dena

After that,  we got the news that our nephew Seth dropped to one knee and proposed to his girlfriend, and she answered in the affirmative…

Then, as if the good news wouldn’t stop coming, our neighbor’s daughter had the question popped to her, and SHE said yes as well.

Woah. Great news all around!

But, what’s a woodworking uncle to do?  I mean, we’re going to be headed to a LOT of ceremonies in the upcoming year, and I’m going to want to shine when it comes to showcasing the skillz.

So, I started looking for appropriate wedding gifts to give. A cutting board? Meh, too pedestrian. A hope chest? Already done for Carolina. A picture frame? Shesh, they are probably going to get a dozen of those…

Iggy has an idea

Wait a second. What if I did something special that they could treasure for years to come that could serve as a picture frame, hold memories and demonstrate some rudimentary skill as a woodworker?

Would it be possible?

box

I think so. I’m thinking a two-part project. The first being sort of a deep wooden memory box with a picture frame as the cover. This way, the couples could put a photo from their big day in the cover while storing other treasures of the big event – the wedding invitations, some other important favors, etc. inside.

Now, a box out all by itself on a shelf would be plan and BOOOORing. What this project would need is a special stand of some type, and I’m thinking that perhaps this past Sunday’s Weekly Plan might be what fills the need.

A Roubo bookstand

The Roubo bookstand would be an excellent way to showcase the box, suspending it above wherever it will be placed and really making it look snazzy.

Fortunately, two of the weddings aren’t planned until next spring, but one may be taking place around New Year’s Eve, so I may have to put my behind into gear and make these pieces a reality.

There’s nothing quite like a challenge, right?

From cradle to grave

I have learned a lot in my 15 or so years of woodworking. From how much it hurts – and scares the heck of you – when you get hit by a board kicking back from a table saw to how practice can make a ton of difference in your abilities.

But, this past week I have learned so much more about the craft. It was once said that before the age of steel and plastics, that we were surrounded by wood from the cradle to the grave. It makes total sense.

Steven's Cradle

Over the years, I have built cradles for my newborn sons as well as anonymous moms at pregnancy crisis centers. With nothing as precious as a newborn child, it was an overwhelming feeling to know that my handcrafted work was providing comfort, security and the gentle soothing only a rocking cradle can provide as my sons slept soundly, conducting the important business of growing up.

Toy boxes. Rocking horses. Book shelves to hold a growing collection of tomes that would expand my sons’ learning and exploration of the world.

A dining room table where we could all gather – the four of us to enjoy an evening meal or to expand considerably as we gathered for a family feast to celebrate a major holiday.

cutting board

Coffee tables to host a competitive family game night, or to rest a few beverages and plates of wings on while we watched the big game or hosted parties with our friends. Cutting boards as gifts for those friends to help host us at dinner parties they threw.

Lauren's hope chest

Hope chests for our nieces so they could save those important mementos of their lives as little girls as they blossom into beautiful young ladies. Keepsake boxes for friends who got married – and now for nieces and nephews who are preparing to tie the knot.

A comfortable bed for my wife and I to rest our tired heads at the end of our long, busy days. Maybe a few outdoor projects that will help her enjoy her gardening and love of nature.

And, over the past week, I have been rather scarce due to the passing of my father-in-law just slightly over a week ago. It happened while I was coming back from Woodworking in America. Since that time, things have been a blur as Rhonda, her mom, her sisters and brother have all pulled together to make the final arrangements.

My father-in-law, a very strong and plain-spoken man, wished to be laid to rest in a plain wooden coffin, and that’s exactly what was chosen. And, on a chilly autumn afternoon in a beautiful cemetery just outside of Washington, D.C., that’s what we did, surrounding him as a loving family.

The beautiful cemetary

As I write this at about 34,000 feet somewhere above Virginia coming back from the funeral, it has struck me like a thunderbolt – every project I build is becoming a part of someone’s life. From the cradle to the grave.

And, I am humbled.

Fired up

Coming back from Woodworking in America is one of those experiences which if you aren’t pumped to get into the shop, you either aren’t a woodworker or you you may need to visit a doctor.

Of course, there were tools like you wouldn’t believe at the marketplace…

De Planes!

Hatchet

There were also some great instructors sharing their knowledge with the attendees.

Underhill and the Schwarz

Who knew that Roy Underhill could operate a video camera?

David Marks

You know you have arrived in the woodworking world when someone as renowned as David Marks stops what he’s doing at his instruction bench (doing some awesome gilding, by the way) and asks, “Is that the famous Tom Iovino of Tom’s Workbench?” You could have knocked me over with a feather.

Wow

On, no, wait… that was the awe I was in looking at the gorgeous turned vessel he was passing around. My bad…  (I guess there’s a reason why he’s so darned renowned!)

Ahhh, Megan

There was the ever gracious host of the event – Megan Fitzpatrick of Popular Woodworking – who answered my slew of obnoxious questions with quite a few zingers of her own.

The MWA recording

Dyami Plotke and I got a chance to lay down episode number 80 of the Modern Woodworkers Association podcast from the expo floor. Nothing quite like having your own heckling crew on hand for an interview!

Cut those tenons

And, as always, one of the best parts of the event was seeing the spark being lit in the eyes of the next generation of woodworkers. I don’t think this young lady realized that she was holding a Bad Axe tenon saw in her hands, but I get the idea that from here on out, she’s going to want nothing but the finest for her hand sawing.

Mmmm, ribs...

Oh, and the simple fact that we were in Kansas City, home to some of the country’s most amazing barbecue, didn’t hurt either.

Now, what to build next?

Traveling…

What’s up with all of these people traveling lately?  First, you have Xi Jinping, the President of China, swinging through Seattle on his way to talk to business leaders and address the United Nations.

President Xi Jinping

Then, Pope Francis arrives in Washington, D.C. to speak with congress – oh, and did he ever look sporting in that FIAT…

Pope Francis in a FIAT

NOW, woodworkers from across this fair land are converging on Kansas City, Missouri for Woodworking in America 2015. 

WWIA

As with previous years, this year’s event promises to be a rollicking good time where there will be a ton of woodworking classes, lots of tools to get some hands on time with and a bunch of knowledgeable woodworking experts who will take the time to answer your questions.

Fun for everyone at the Hand Tool Olympics

There are two other important things that Woodworking in America provides. First, there will be incredible feats of woodworking prowess to challenge yourself with at the Hand Tool Olympics. Mike Siemsen is back this year to put a saw, bit and brace, plane or chisel in your hand and have you try your skills in six different tests of skill. Besides the ongoing onslaught of trash talk heaped upon woodworking bloggers, the folks running the booth will stop and take the time to show you exactly how to make those hand tools sing. No need to be intimidated in the least.

The second, and most important part about being in an event like Woodworking in America is the camaraderie that you experience with the other woodworkers. There is a critical mass that is reached. You can feel the excitement as people talk about what’s going on in their shops, what they want to build and even down a few libations.  When I come back to my shop, I feel like my batteries are recharged, and that any project I want to build is well within my reach.

That makes me feel like a woodworking VIP.

Deep in the desert

OK, I’m guilty as charged, your honor. For the past two weeks, I haven’t been paying attention to Tom’s Workbench. I know that for some of you, this was hard news to take. Was Tom giving up woodworking and taking up knitting? You must have been on pins and needles.

The desert

For the 99.9999% of the rest of you – you couldn’t have been so lucky. I was out deep in the desert southwest of the United States teaching some new public information courses for FEMA. Yup, a guy from Florida who deals with hurricanes was going to be part of the team that taught earthquake and wildfire responders how to do their jobs.

students

Crazy, right?

So, I left the morning after July 4th, stopped through Dallas – Fort Worth Airport and ended up in Phoenix. Now, when this past January 1 rolled around, I had never seen mountains or the desert. In January, I got the mountains, and in July, man, did I ever get the desert. It’s true what they say – it’s a dry heat – just like an oven.

While we stayed in really awesome places, we did work our butts off teaching. Piloting, in fact. The material we were instructing was newly revised, and needed to be instructed so any changes could be made.

Arizona rotunda

But, we did get a chance to see some things – like the Arizona capitol museum. Now that was a nice place, set in the old capitol building that was built around 1900 – even before Arizona became a state. The woodwork – even this far out west in the middle of the Sonora Desert – was spectacular.

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And, while we were in Phoenix, we had to stop by Marc Spagnuolo’s shop. While his wife Nicole was laid up late into her pregnancy, Marc did show us around the spectacular shop he had built. I’ve seen the building in pictures, and was thoroughly impressed, but seeing it in person was something else.

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I had anticipated it feeling bigger than it was, but given that video equipment shared space with woodworking tools, it was easy to see just how the space could be eaten up.

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Marc had taken the time to carefully break each section of the shop into logical sections – lumber storage and prep, milling, hand work, assembly and the like. Not a bad use of space for sure.

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After just standing and soaking it in, it was late, and we had to go out to grab a bite at a local Italian place. Let’s just say that getting a couple of Italian guys from Jersey together in the desert made it look a little like a witness protection program reunion, but wow, was the food ever tasty.

guidos

Now, back to the 9 to 5, my happy family and the shop that has missed me for way too long!